Bicycles Build Bridges
Naviki interview: Shahrzad Mohammadi
She is the initiator of an association that is dedicated to teaching refugee women bicycling. We had a chat with Shahrzad Mohammadi that sees an extreme potential in the bike as an instrument to built bridges across cultures and society's individuals. Now, "bike bridge" is implemented in many cities across Germany and in Paris.
Naviki: Bike Bridge, as the name implies already, the initiative that teaches women how to ride a bike, is building bridges – how exactly does that happen?
Bike Bridge e.V. builds a bridge between girls and women with refugee or/and migrant history and locals aiming at strengthening the sense of community in society. Our club goals are both, promotion of civic engagement as well as strengthening social cohesion in society. Cycling is our tool to improve the social and physical mobility of women who have fled. We bring together locals and immigrants in the context of this project, initiate social contacts and provide an intercultural framework in which we can learn from each other. Many women, with or without a migration history, work for Bike Bridge as honorary trainers and childminders. In addition, we also offer other activities and workshops mostly in cooperation with other clubs and organizations, such as joint cooking events, workshops, small German courses within each bike course as well as bicycle tours for all participants, trainers and their families.
Why is it important that Bike Bridge's offer is aimed specifically at refugee women? How old are the women?
When I visited a refugee camp for the first time in 2015 and talked to women, they told me that there was no leisure offer for them and that they spent most of the day indoors. At that time there were some sports activities, but they have been directed only to children and men. I wondered what activity might suit them. I come from Iran, so also from an Islamic culture like many refugee women. In the Middle East and Africa, most women do not have the chance to learn cycling. Cycling in Freiburg has a special significance. The refugee women also noticed this positively.
The participants are between 20-65 years old.
How many women have you helped on the saddle and how long does a course take?
So far over 300 women in 4 cities (Freiburg, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Paris) have learned to cycle through Bike Bridge. The Bike & Belong bike courses are the focus of club activities. Each B&B course lasts two months. We also offer open training once a week.
What do you think makes cycling for adult beginners particularly difficult, how long does it take until there is a success?In the beginning, finding the balance on the bike and keeping it is difficult. Some women learn faster, some slower. But at the end of the course, almost everyone can cycle without support.
Do language and culture barriers play a role in your work?
We do not see it as "cultural barriers" but as cultural differences. We try to create a pleasant, welcoming atmosphere in which one respects each other regardless of cultural background and linguistic difference.Since last year, however, every B & B course in Freiburg has at least one trainer with flight or migration history, which also helps with the translation.
Were there moments at Bike Bridge that you particularly like to look back on?
I once heard from a B&B course coordinator that a mid-50-year-old participant said at the end of the class, "Every time I cycle-just straight-ahead, I send greetings to everyone and to you. The miracle has happened ". Another participant told me that she was the only one in her family who could not ride a bike. If they made a family picnic, she had to go by herself with the tram to the meeting point. Well, she says, now, she's the first one to take the bike. Such stories make us incredibly happy and inspire us to continue.
Are you planning to expand the offer? For example, to address all women or even children, men?
Right now, we are only focusing on women who want to learn to ride a bike. We try to reach as many women as possible through our offer. That's why we're scaling to other cities. So far, we have activities going on in some cities in Germany and also in Paris. For the future, we certainly have a plan to reach other target groups.
In three words: What does the perfect society look like to you and what role does the bicycle play in it?
Free, Mobile, Inclusive.
How can anyone interested support Bike Bridge?
We welcome everyone who helps. Whether as a trainer/child carer in the next Bike & Belong bike course or as a donor of property or money.
Thank you very much Shahrzad!
About Shahrzad Mohammadi
Shahrzad is a young social entrpeneur, who came from the Iranian city of Mashhad. In 2010, she started her master's degree in Konstanz and has been living in Freiburg since 2013. In addition to her work at Bike Bridge, she is currently doing her PhD on Integration of Refugee Women through Sports at the Institute for Sport and Sports Science of the University of Freiburg.
Interviews with interesting people who have a special relation to cycling.